Srinagar: The Union Ministry for Information and Broadcasting (I&B) on Sunday directed the cable operators providing services in the Valley to block the airing of all television channels from several Muslim countries including Turkey and Iran.
Vikram Sahay, the joint secretary-level official in the ministry arrived in the summer capital Srinagar this afternoon and held a two-hour-long meeting with a group of cable operators.
“The official told us, in categorical terms, that all the channels from Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan should be blocked,” said an operator who attended the meeting.
According to the operator, the ministry official read out the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 to the operators and asked them to adhere to it strictly.
“You should read the Act carefully and adhere to it in letter and spirit,” the cable operator, who wished not to be named quoted the ministry official as saying. “You are violating the Act.”
Another operator said they were surprised to hear from the official about a Malaysian channel being aired in the Valley.
“No such channel is being aired in Kashmir,” the operator said.
However, he said the operators told the official from the I&B ministry that they were airing an Iran-based Sehar channel and a Saudi Arabia-based Al-Arabiya channel.
“We informed the official that certain sections of the population in Kashmir, including the Shia community, watch these channels keenly for religious programs,” the cable operator said. “The official, however, insisted that both the channels should be banned as per the central regulations.”
During the meeting, which took place at the information department’s Srinagar office, the official also sought information about the most-watched programs in Kashmir.
“We told him (the ministry official) that people follow debates on news channels for entertainment purposes,” said the cable operator. “The official laughed in response.”
The cable operators spoke to media persons after the meeting. However, the Union government official refused to comment on the meeting. “I’m not supposed to talk to media,” he said.
The operations of the cable operators were badly hit after the state government suspended all means of communication including internet and mobile services and put restrictions on public movement, hours before the Centre unilaterally scrapped Article 370 of the constitution and bifurcated the state into two Union territories on August 5.
The cable operators, however, resumed operations by August 20.
While restrictions on public movement were lifted last month followed by a resumption of post-paid mobile services, internet services remain suspended.
The cable operators raised the issue of the internet ban with the I&B ministry official and, seeking a resumption of the services, told him that the move had badly hit their functioning.
The government-enforced internet gag completed 105 days in Kashmir on Sunday. There is however no word from the government regarding the resumption of the service even as journalists working in Kashmir have held several protests seeking an end to the ban.
“The official told us that he will take up the matter with the ministry after holding deliberations with authorities from the local government,” said the cable operator.
The operators also informed the ministry official that they should be given permission to air “a few” religious channel for the majority community in the Valley.
“We are airing such programs for people from other communities,” said the cable operator. “We raised the demand on similar lines.”
The official told the cable operator to submit the list of the channels they intended to air and that the ministry would take a final call on the issue.
In July 2018, the state government had asked cable operators to desist from broadcasting 34 banned television channels including Peace TV in Kashmir saying that their broadcasting violated the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act.
The government claimed that there were reports that cable operators were telecasting and transmitting banned private satellite channels.
“It needs to be noted that the transmission of non-permitted TV channels apart from attracting the violation (of the law), has the potential to encourage or incite violence and create law and order disturbances in the Kashmir,” a government order had said.